A recent editorial in the Seattle Times voiced the paper’s support of Washington Governor Chris Gregiore’s proposed reforms to the state’s workers’ comp system. Her proposals center around reducing costs, limit the number of lifetime pensions and encourage injured workers to return to work as soon as the are able.
• A statewide provider network. “Some doctors are getting excellent results,” Schurke says. “Others are not.” The governor’s proposals would allow L&I to manage a provider network, like the health insurers do. Now it cannot.
• A wage subsidy for small employers. The idea, from Oregon, is to get the injured worker back on the job, thinking and feeling like a worker, “so as not to develop a disability mindset,” Schurke says. The wage subsidy, lasting up to 66 days, is a way to pay employers to provide light work.
• Raising the permanent partial disability award. Schurke says the current award is so low that claimants are “being driven to hold out for a lifetime pension.”
• A lump sum for workers 55 and up. Workers who could work if retrained are now put into costly retraining programs. Among older workers, Schurke says, “a lot go through the motions of retraining, but their heart is not in it. They just do it to qualify for a pension.” The state would offer them a cash settlement.
• A pension until retirement. Some workers can’t go back to work, but their work injury isn’t the main reason. Now they get lifetime pensions. Under Gregoire’s proposal, they would get a pension until their Social Security starts.
While it is heartening to see Governor Gregoire undertake a strong effort to improve Washington’s workers’ comp market, an important part of the problem that goes unnoticed far too often still needs to be addressed.
A greater effort to combat fraud should also be at the center of any new workers’ comp reforms. Cracking down on fraud is a necessary prerequisite to further reform. Before any additional money is borrowed or spent for workers’ comp programs a serious review needs to be conducted of how the money is now being distributed. Only after the sieve is closed should any additional funds be acquired.